And Here We Are

I’m writing this post Tuesday afternoon–we’re just about a week from the end of the regular season–and the Mariners are determined to be the Mariners.

A week ago, they had a reasonably solid grip on the playoffs, with a five game lead over the next closest team. Not a cinch, but wildly encouraging for those of us who are old enough to remember the last time the Ms played a post-season game.

There are, by the way, at least a dozen players on their 40 Man Roster who are too young to remember anything from October 22, 2001.

But again, Mariners: a subset of Seattle sports. They’ve managed to lose seven of their past ten games, and only the fact that the Orioles haven’t managed to do any better than .500 has kept Seattle in that third Wild Card spot. Nineteen games remaining: ten for Seattle, nine for Baltimore. Six Orioles’ losses, Mariners’ wins, or any combination adding up to six eliminates Baltimore and probably* clinches a playoff spot for Seattle.

* Chicago and Minnesota could still be spoilers. But for the Twins to boot Seattle out of the playoffs would require them to win all of their remaining games and Seattle to lose all of theirs. Even for a Seattle team, that’s a stretch. Chicago’s chances aren’t much better: three Seattle wins in these last ten games–the same record they’ve accumulated over the past week and a half, remember–would end Chicago’s run.

But, the Baseball Gods forbid the Race For the Playoffs to be settled without drama. And, yes, one has to admire the Ms’ willingness to look bad* in the interest of keeping interest high. Let’s face it, this is Seattle we’re talking about. As soon as the Mariners clinch–assuming they do–attendance at T-Mob is going to crater for the rest of the regular season. (Seattle is far from unique in that regard: there’s a reason why teams schedule special games–Fan Appreciation Day, Oktoberfest, Kids Run the Bases, and suchlike–during the last week of the season. Can’t get butts in seats without some intrigue; can’t find some excitement? Invent some!)

* Giving up eleven runs in one inning, and still losing by a single run? That’s drama, that is.

But Seattle teams excel at stretching drama, often until it snaps in their faces. How many times this century have the Mariners been eliminated on the last day of the season? I won’t be a bit surprised if this year’s postseason isn’t settled until the final games of the season*.

* Wednesday, October 5. Mariners/Tigers, Orioles/Blue Jays, and (for the sake of completeness) White Sox/Twins.

Of course, it being a work day, with all games starting at 4:00 (give or take a few minutes) I won’t get to watch any of them.

The Baseball Gods are cruel. It’s a well-known fact.

Mind you, I’d love to see both the Mariners and Orioles make the playoffs, even if it did mean they’d be facing each other. It could happen: Tampa Bay is only half a game ahead of the Mariners, and six of their last nine games will be against teams that have clinched playoff spots. If they were to go, say, 3-6, while the Mariners go 5-5, all Baltimore would have to do snag the last slot would be winning eight of nine*. A pair of four-game winning streaks would do it. Happens all the time, right?

* Unfortunately, Tampa Bay holds the tiebreaker–head to head record–over both Seattle and Baltimore.

Okay, it’s unlikely to happen. But you gotta admit, the odds are slightly better than the Twins’ chances of playing past next Wednesday. (Before any games were played Tuesday, FiveThirtyEight had the Orioles odds at 1%–which does, of course, include the possibility of leapfrogging Seattle, but not Tampa Bay–and Minnesota’s at the uninformative “<1%”*.

* Come on, gang, tell us how much less than one percent they are!

As I said, here we are. The thrill of defeat, the agony of victory, isn’t that how it goes? Close enough, anyway.

See you at the ballpark.

Waiting Impatiently

Because the world needs more blog posts about baseball. Seriously, it does. What else is going to keep us going until spring training?

Yesterday, Jackie bemoaned her Orioles’ ongoing inability to, you know, do anything to improve the team. In particular, the arch-rival* Red Sox went out yesterday and spent approximately eleventy-zillion dollars–about two thirds of what the Marlins spent on Giancarlo Stanton–to sign Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. Meanwhile, the Os have signed, um, well, you tell me. It’s an immensely frustrating position to be in. The Mariners have been doing it to their fans for years.

* The Red Sox are the arch-rival of more teams than anyone except the Yankees. By my count, the Sox have twenty-eight arch-rivals, every other team in MLB except the Rockies. The Yankees count is currently 42: They’re so hated, they’re not only the arch-rival to every team in both leagues–including themselves–but football, basketball, and hockey teams are signing up to have the Yankees as arch-rivals. But I digress.

I mean, this is the off-season, the time when the fans of the teams that didn’t win the World Series get to say “Just wait until next year.” But how are they supposed to say it with any conviction if the team hasn’t added players to fill their needs? Or at least re-signed last season’s major contributors? It’s especially frustrating when you–the fan–seem to have a better idea of what the team needs than management does. As Jackie points out, at a minimum the Os need to re-sign Nick Markakis. Doesn’t ownership know that? If they do, why aren’t they doing it?

Then there’s Seattle. Every fan knows they need to nab a couple of solid bats. Seattle fans know better than anyone that pitching and fielding don’t win games. Watch Felix lose an endless string of 1-0 games, watch Brendan Ryan make an impossible defensive play and then ground out weakly, and you figure out quickly that your team needs to score at least an occasional run to win games.

So what have they done? Swung and missed on Victor Martinez, Billy Butler, and Adam LaRoche. But, hey, they’ve signed Kyle Seager to a long-term contract. That’s a good thing, no question. Seager was a big part of their success last year, and locking him up is a move they had to make. In a “well, at least they did something” way, it means that Mariners fans can lord it over Orioles fans because the Os haven’t done diddly. It’s still maintaining the status quo, not taking a step forward, and it means the Red Sox fans can lord it over the Mariners fans.

Pity the poor Giants fans, though. The Giants failed to re-sign the Panda, so now they have to replace probably the most-loved player on the team (apologies to Timmy’s fans). They need to take a big step forward just to stay at the same level. OK, so it’s a level that won the World Series, but it’s easy to argue that they wouldn’t have made the playoffs, let alone won the Series without Sandoval.

They’ve got some major names they need to re-sign or replace: Sergio Romo, Michael Morse, and Jake Peavy spring to mind immediately, but there are several more. What have they done so far? Pretty much the same as the Orioles.

Maybe we need a new rallying cry. Who wants to try “Just wait until the Winter Meetings!”